Position Light Signals on Long Island

Signals at Farm 1 before they were taken down and replaced

The Long Island Rail Road was once a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad. As such, the LIRR used the Pennsylvania Railroads Position Light Signal System. Although there were slight changes over the years between the LIRR and big brother the PRR, they were basically the same system.

In the early 2000’s, the LIRR has begun using a colored signal system that is in operation along with the Position signals. The two systems are both currently working side by side or more accurately put, it depends on what section of the railroad you are on, determines what system is being used on that particular stretch of railroad.

A position light signal is one where the position of the lights, rather than their color, determines the meaning. The aspect consists solely of a pattern of illuminated lights, which are all of the same color (typically amber or white). In many countries, small position light signals are used as shunting signals, while the main signals are of color light form.
On the Long Island Rail Road as on other railroads, initial efforts were made to replace the semaphore with illumination of the position of the blade rather than by color lamps alone. This had the advantage of eliminating any and all effects of even slight color blindness by the train crew. (The PRR realized that 1 in 3 engineers were color blind). Lamps with inverted half toric optic lenses, covered with a light yellow tinted conical cover glass with a frosted tip to avoid phantom indications were displayed in rows of three, corresponding to the positions of a semaphore blade. Multiple signal heads were used at interlockings where four aspects did not suffice. The Pennsylvania Railroad chose to use their Superintendent of Signaling, A.H.Rudd's, in-house developed position light signals to both replace the semaphores and their moving parts, also because the intense lemon yellow light provided superior visibility in adverse weather conditions such as rain, fog or snow. The prototype position lights used rows of four lamps in an asymmetric fashion in the style of semaphore blades, but this was later changed to the symmetric three-lamp system. The first installation of the four 5 volt 10 watt lamp position light signals occurred on the Mainline between Philadelphia and Paoli, in conjunction with the 1915 electrification. These first signals differed from the later ones in that the lamps were mounted separately in front of a tombstone-shaped black painted metal backing. There were found issues with wind damage due to the rather larger "sail area" of the "tombstone backing." Soon thereafter, the lamps were reduced in number to three per row, without adversely affecting the long range viewing of the signal aspects and the backing correspondingly reduced in size and made as a disc. The lamp units and background disc on a mounting system known as a "spider," were integrated into a single unit.
Below, you will see a chart of position light signals, with an accompanying rule number. 
This is an over view of the LIRR/PRR system.
We will take each individual Position Aspect and describe what it means.

In the Chart below, the Position Signal is on the Left and the same aspect shown as a Dwarf Signal is to the Right of the position signal.


Rule 280
Clear Block
Proceed: Manual Block Clear


Rule 281

Rule 282
Proceed approaching next signal at medium speed. Note: Trains may proceed approaching next signal at not exceeding 45 miles per hour at signals displaying a yellow triangle outlined in black

Rule 283
Proceed; Medium Speed through interlocking limits. 
NOTE 1 - Trains may at not exceeding 45 miles per hour within interlocking limits, at signals displaying a yellow triangle outlined in black. 
​NOTE 2 - In cab signal territory with fixed automatic block signals, trains with cab signals not in operative condition or not equipped with cab signals, must not exceed Medium Speed

Rule 283 A

Proceed at Medium Speed prepared to stop at next signal. Train exceeding Medium speed must at once reduce to that speed.

Rule 284
Proceed approaching next signal at slow speed. Train exceeding Medium speed must at once reduce to that speed.

Rule 285
Proceed prepared to stop at next signal. Train exceeding Medium speed must at once reduce to that speed.

Rule 285 A

Train exceeding Medium speed must at once reduce to that speed. Where a facing switch is connected with the signal, approach that switch prepared to stop. Approach next signal prepared to stop.and edit me. It's easy.

Rule 287

Proceed; Slow speed within interlocking limits.

Rule – 289
Permissive Block

Block occupied; for passenger trains, stop; for trains other than passenger trains, proceed prepared to stop short of train or obstruction, but not exceeding 15 miles per hour

Rule 290

​Proceed at Restricted speed

Rule 291

Stop, and then proceed at restricted speed.

NOTE - Freight trains of 90 or more cars or having tonnage of 80 per cent or more of the prescribed engine rating may proceed at Restricted speed without stopping at signals displaying a yellow disc on which is shown the letter "G" in black. 

The engineer must be notified as to tonnage and number of cars in train before leaving terminals and when consist is changed enroute.

Rule 292

STOP signal

Rule 294

With a Red Flashing Light
Next to the signal aspect.

Signal rules and aspects make use of several pre-defined speeds. These speeds are also used in Weak Route type signaling:

Normal Speed - The normal speed for the railroad line, also known as Maximum Authorized Speed.

Limited Speed - A speed less than Normal Speed that was employed starting in the 1940's for use with higher speed  switches. This speed is defined by individual railroads and ranges anywhere from 40 miles per hour, to 60 miles per hour.

Medium Speed - Original concept for a standard "reduced" speed normally set to 30 miles per hour. This is the typical speed for diverging movements through interlockings and is also the speed trains are limited to when approaching a Stop or Restricted Proceed-type signals.

Slow Speed - 15 miles per hour  while with in the limits of a interlocking and 20mph when not in the limits of a interlocking. This is used for trains negotiating complex trackwork at interlockings.

Restricted Speed - Used for trains entering or operating in unsignaled territory or when entering an de-energized track circuit. Regulatory definition of no greater than 20 miles per hour, outside interlocking limits, 15 mph within interlocking limits. Trains operating at restricted speed must be able to stop within half vision short of any obstruction, and must look out for broken rails.


Signal showing STOP to an eastbound train, as the 153 moves westbound at Mastic-Shirley Photo by R. Gorddard

Long Island Railroad Manual Block Signals


​Westbound train at Mattituck, NY. Note the old style Block Signals.

Collection of R. Gorddard

The LIRR Also uses Manual Block Signals.

These signals are used in “Dark Territory”. This means there are no position light signals or any other kind of signals except for the manual block signals. In the “dark territory” all train movements are governed by train orders and timetable authority.

Dispatchers issue a K card or clearance card, authorizing a train to move from one block to another block. Or to proceed to a block passing others as if a clear block is displayed.

In manual block territory, you can have either:


  • Clear Block – Dispatcher authorizes the train to proceed from one block to another as if a clear signal was displayed.

  • Permissive Block- This allows one train to follow another, but the dispatcher keeps a distance between trains.

In Manual Block territory the signals do not change. The left side of the block signal is yellow and the right side is red, eastbound, and the opposite westbound.


Amtrak Train Heading for the Tunnel to Penn Station, passing Position Signals.

Photo by Richard Gorddard